Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Strike Force

Strike Force

BY CLAYTEE WHITE

How Hattie Canty became one of America’s most powerful and revered labor leaders.

In 1990, Hattie Canty won the presidency of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the most powerful labor organization in the city of Las Vegas — maybe the entire United States. She led with compassion and courage as she raised eight children alone after losing her husband to cancer in 1975. In 1993, she was instrumental in founding the Culinary Training Academy by partnering with the largest hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Canty was born in 1933 in St. Stephens, Alabama. After acquiring several years of education, she began a family and soon left the South. Her migration began in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement — joining many Blacks also leaving for a better life. Most African Americans did not have a concrete definition for “a better life” but they knew that they would recognize it when they began to experience it.

She did not find that envisioned reality at her first stop, San Diego, but discovered it in Las Vegas when she settled here in 1961. First, she tried a job in janitorial services at the Clark County School District. But she hit her stride when she took the job as a maid at the Maxim Hotel Casino and joined Local 226. Wages were good and benefits sufficient — so Canty gained a sense of freedom and became an activist.

If Culinary Workers Union Local 226 was protesting at any location, she would join the picket line after her shift. Soon she was elected to the union’s executive board where, in 1984, she planned a successful 75-day strike. As union president, she led 550 workers at the Frontier Hotel and Gambling Hall in a protest of unfair labor conditions. At that time, it was the longest strike in American history — six years, four months, and ten days! After her initial election, she was re-elected by landslides in 1993 and 1996.

Hattie’s other outstanding achievement was founding a Culinary Academy to train hotel workers in a myriad of positions. The academy trains thousands of hospitality workers each year to reduce poverty and eliminate unemployment by providing employment and vocational skills to youth, adults, and displaced workers.

Canty, one of the greatest labor leaders in American history, passed away on July 12, 2012 at age 79. It was once said that she spent every one of her off-days walking a picket line when there was a picket line to walk. The old Negro Spiritual tells the rest of the story, as The Mighty Clouds of Joy sang:

One of these mornings won’t be very long
You will look for me and I’ll be gone
I
’m going to a place where I’ll have nothing to do,
But just walk around, walk around heaven all day.

White is the Director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries

Become a historian: let your curiosity run wild.

Elementary School: Which hotel replaced the Maxim, the Hotel Casino that employed Hattie Canty?

High School and College: The Maxim was located at the corner of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane. Whose life was lost at that intersection on September 7, 1996? Describe his accomplishments.

Adults 17 to 97: Book recommendation about Black Migration to the West: “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson

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